Authors: D.D. Mayers
Tags: #life story, #paraplegia, #car crash, #wheelchair, #hospital, #survival, #recovery, #trauma, #guru, #biography, #travel, #kenya, #schooling, #tragedy
YOU HAVE NOT A LEG TO STAND ON
You Have Not a Leg to Stand On
Published in 2015 by
Andrews UK Limited
The right of D.D. Mayers to be identified as author of this book has been asserted in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Copyright Â© 2015 D.D. Mayers
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior written consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published, and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
I dedicate this book to my wife. You will quickly realise, for the last 39 years, she has both literally and metaphorically, carried me around the world and through my life. Since the moment she found me in a little African hospital in central Kenya at midnight on the 29
of June 1976, she has been my other self. She is my heart and soul and means more to me than I can possibly express.
I would also like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, both our families and all friends for their unerring acceptance of my plight and never once shying away from any support we have needed.
The day started off just like any other day, a beautiful day. Every day in the Kedong Valley was a beautiful day. The Kedong Valley nestles in the side of the Great Rift Valley that carves its way through the East of Africa, starting in South Africa and ends engulfing The Red Sea. I was 32, my wife 18 months younger. We'd been married for eight years. It's a long time ago, as I write this, but I'm told we were an attractive couple. We lived here in this beautiful place where the Kedong River bubbles up out of the ground; millions of gallons a day of crystal clear water. When people see the garden for the first time, their breath is taken away, and they'd whisper âShangri-La.' But by the end of this beautiful day, the 29
of June 1976, our lives will have turned upside down, and it would be the start of years and years of desperate, traumatic despair.
The butcher arrived on time, and he said âLet's go in my car so we can talk.' It was a spanking new Volvo, much nicer than my poor old Peugeot. âGreat.' I jumped in. He'd seen the herd before but he wanted to see them once more before paying in cash. He intended to obtain the licence to walk them from their grazing in the north of the country to his slaughterhouse in Nairobi.
It was a pleasant drive. We chatted about how he'd become so successful. Even then, seventeen years after independence, it was unusual for an African, if he weren't a politician, to be a successful businessman.
We arrived just before five in the hot, dusty, ramshackle little wooden township of Rumeruti, where the police station was the only stone building. âHello, hello, how are you all, is the licence ready?' âYes, yes, sign here.' âThanks very much.' I jumped back in. It was now about three minutes before the crash would happen. The road was quite good; it was a murram road, a dirt road, with loose gravel in the middle and on the sides. You could drive quite fast when keeping to the tracks but needed skill if you came out of them. We were moving quite quickly, a bit too quickly. We were coming up to a sharp bend to the right. The wheels caught the gravel in the middle and the side on the left. The car started to drift. He'd lost control, I instinctively reached for the dashboard, mistake, a split-second later... oblivion.
With the impact of the accident, that moment of oblivion, I could easily have died. People breezily say âyou're lucky to be alive.' I usually just say âYes' but I think, âwhat the hell do you know, you stupid ill-informed idiot.'
They say this to me while looking at me sitting in my wheelchair, knowing I've been bound to this contraption since 1976 and will be for the rest of my life. Not only can I never walk again but I'm doubly incontinent, impotent and in continuous, excruciating pain below the level of the break, meaning normal painkilling drugs have no effect. I know this must seem as though I'm âbitter and twisted', but I'm very aware of how much others can put up with, so I never give that impression. My wife is the only person who has any perception of how I think and feel about being alive.
I've reread this last paragraph I wrote some months ago, and I think I should, at this point, expand upon the devastating effect paraplegia has on an individual.
Not being able to walk could be described as really the least of the problems. If it were that alone, then coming to terms with using some sort of contraption to move about, would quickly be overcome. The choice of wheelchairs to cars, and financial assistance from social services is overwhelming. Even impotence doesn't necessarily mean you can't have a fulfilling, close relationship with the opposite sex, or the same sex for that matter.
It's incontinence that buggers you up. Incontinence and the consequences of incontinence are unacceptable both socially and individually. It's only in the last few years that âurinary tract infection' is openly discussed. And yet before the advent of antibiotics, as recently as after the end of the Second World War, the average life expectancy for a paraplegic was about three years.
So now you'll live and not die. But what's the point of living if, as a human being and not an animal, you have no control over your bowels and bladder. It's that most basic of functions that differentiate us from all other animals.
When I left Stoke Mandeville hospital, my shopping list for the management of urine collection was unusual. It included one kipper (a thick rubber urine bag that looked like a kipper, which you tied to your leg) and a yard of half-inch yellow rubber tubing. There was also a spigot, a tube of white rubber glue, a needle and a bag of condoms. However carefully I assembled this extraordinary collection of disparate items required to stick the condom to my deflated, flaccid, useless penis, there seemed to be a major âaccident'. Hatefully this occurred on average, about once a week. For the record, I'll describe to you what an âaccident' actually entails.
We were invited to stay for a few days with a lifetime friend of my wife's family, at his beautiful castle in Scotland. He was blind and had been so for most of his adult life. Nevertheless the castle was immaculate, both inside and out, and he ran the vast estate with the most up-to-date methods available for the day.
The Laird was waiting for us at the top of the long grey stone staircase. He was a big man, not fat, big, quite tall, bald top of his head with white hair above his ears. He wore the Stuart tartan kilt he always wore when in Scotland, and the traditional green tweed short jacket, and knee-length woollen stockings with thick leather brogues.
The staff were assembled to carry me up the baronial staircase and into the main hall. It was magnificent. Just what you'd expect a hall of a beautiful castle would look like. He'd recently rewired, cleaned and painted the entire inside of the castle. We were led to our room by the Laird himself, turning the lights on and off as we processed from room to room. He gave us detailed descriptions of all he'd had done and how it looked before the work started. Listening to him, you would never have known he'd been completely blind for more than thirty years. We finally reached our room which he'd also recently updated. It was stunning; an enormous four-poster bed facing a roaring log fire and a magnificent view over lovely parkland. This was dotted with long-horned, shaggy Highland cattle, lying or standing around among imposing, sweeping, tall beech and oak trees. A scene you would have thought had long gone, or only as a showcase, not to live in for every day. After tea in the âlong drawing-room', with fires at both ends, my wife took me along to the rooms she used to stay in, as a child and teenager, every Easter holiday. The main impression I got, although I'd never been in a castle before, was how homely it felt. For giants, but definitely cozy! My wife and the Laird obviously had much to catch up on. They hadn't spoken since before we were married. He'd given her a wedding present of a diamond tiara which also became a stunning necklace. All her nieces have worn it for their weddings. The time flew.
A staff member came in and suggested we might like to go to our room to change before dinner, not knowing the enormous energy and teamwork required.
The Laird's favourite tipple was a large whisky in a long glass, topped up to the brim, with Guinness. I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before! We didn't have wine with our food, we went on with the same thing. I can't really remember what we had to eat. I suppose it must have been a haunch of venison off the estate. It was a good thing I was sitting in a wheelchair otherwise I think I'd have disgraced myself and fallen flat on my face.
After much reminiscing and affectionate laughter, of which I, thankfully, was not a part, we finally wound our weary way back to our lovely warm room, me with a full bladder.
In those days, to empty my bladder, I'd have to tap it with my fingers for a minute or so. Then my wife, with clenched fists and arms locked straight, would lean on it, with all the weight she could muster. The urine would then spurt out, into the condom, down the rubber pipe and into the collection bag on my leg. At night, I'd disconnect the tube from the leg bag and connect it to a bigger bag which I'd hang on the side of the bed. All very romantic you understand. But tonight there was nothing to hang the bag on, so I had to leave it on the floor. The bed was a castle sized bed, for giants, so I was a long way off the ground. Clambering, or perhaps climbing, into a giant's bed, wasn't on the agenda at Stoke Mandeville. Anyway, I got there in the end and went out like a light. âThe accident' I've been leading up to is only a couple of hours away from happening. I awoke with a start. I instinctively felt the sheets, they were soaking wet. âOh no,' I half shouted. âWhat what' she said. âIt's come off,' I said in despair. She was fully awake and sprang out of bed in a second, âget into your chair, get into your chair.' It was easier going down than it was getting up. She pulled the soaking bottom sheet off. The under blanket was just as wet. There was another, not so bad, and another, quite a lot less. Mercifully, the last, just a little wet, she pulled off slowly. We both anxiously peered at the mattress, thank God it was dry. She threw more logs on the dying embers. There was a pair of bellows standing next to the fireplace. I started pumping while she collected the sheet and all the blankets and rushed into the bathroom. The fire began to catch. When there were a few inches of water in the bottom of the bath, she dipped the urine soaked circles into the water to rinse the hateful stuff out. All I could do was wring them out as hard as I could. She meanwhile ran back to the bedroom, collected all the chairs around the room, and put them apart but back-to-back, in front of the fire. I hadn't noticed how many chairs there were, why were there so many? I put more logs on the fire and blew it up furiously. She then hung the sheet and blankets between each couple of back-to-back chairs. This military style exercise was carried out with practised precision, with hardly a word between us. The room was so hot that sweat dampened our brows. She lay flat out on the mattress, so elegant, her skin glowing soft biscuit brown in the firelight. I wheeled slowly, forlorn, head down, back into the bathroom to stick on a new condom to my flaccid deflated penis.
It was an hour or two before the blankets were dry enough to make the bed up again. We were thankfully in-between lovely warm sheets just before a little knock at the door, where a cheery little housekeeper stood, with a tray of tea and biscuits.
We were so pleased she'd come; it was thirsty work drying blankets. In the broadest Scottish accent you can imagine she said, âI hope you had a lovely night, everyone loves this room.'
THAT is an “accident”, and I haven't started to tell you about the other awful problems of incontinence.
We had a lovely few days in the castle, being driven about the estate by the Factor; it was simply beautiful. One of the days the Laird suggested, as it was such a bright, clear, sunny day, would we like him to take us to the river Tay, which ran through the Estate. He'd show me where my wife, as a little girl and teenager, was rowed out into the middle by the gillie and caught all those magnificent fish. This was said with a wry chuckle as I think he knew very well; she hated fishing. Always cold, and very sorry for the fish, even if she only got a wee nibble. But the main purpose of the exercise was, for him, to push me in my wheelchair to the river, it was only about half a mile. So off we set at a fine pace with great gusto. The track had a high grassy middle which we managed to stay on most of the time despite our disabilities. Remarkably, he pointed things out as we went along and stopped exactly where the gillie would have rowed his boat to pick up his reluctant passenger. They'd travel either upstream or downstream, depending on where she'd get the best bites that day.
The wonderful stay came to a swift close all too soon, and we were in the courtyard saying our very fond farewells. We waved our unseen goodbye, to this brave and remarkable man, not knowing we'd never see The Laird again.
The level of kindness and sheer selflessness I have received from practically everyone I've come in contact with, over all these years, is extraordinary. But still I often find myself, when daydreaming, taking my mind back to that moment of knowing what was happening, and oblivion. If I had died, it all would have been so much easier. Yes, a shock for all concerned, but everyone would have got over it in a year or two. My wife would have remarried, my siblings would say, âYes, we used to have a brother, he died some time ago, a passenger in a car crash.' Instead, so many people have been tied to me and my illness for 39 years so far and will continue to be so, for probably, another 15 years.
Like most people I haven't achieved anything, I have no talent, I serve no purpose, why on earth go on and on and on. Is an individual life really that important, when millions of new ones are made so easily every day, and millions are destroyed every day? What is the importance of an individual without anything to offer? Perhaps this is where faith is a factor. I just cannot believe âGod' is anything other than a useful story. To me it's a children's story, made up to help people come to terms with difficult times in their lives, or for a meaning, or for a purpose in life at all. There's such an intriguing diversity in nature it's no wonder, before Charles Darwin's âOn the Origin of Species', the simple conclusion to nature's magnificence and Homo Sapiens immense power of thought, was that there is a loving God who must be worshiped. The Hindus have lesser gods, animals they're afraid of or are more powerful, to carry the message, whatever it may be, to the higher god. The Muslims have Mohammed, and the Christians have gone one step further and created the idea of the âson' of God. But these are all stories, ones that should be put aside as we grow up. Unfortunately, they've all become big, big business and have caused the greatest misery and strife, for millions of people, for thousands of years.